The Oriental Question: Consolidating a White Man's Province, 1914–41


334 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7748-1010-6
DDC 971.1'004951





Reviewed by Joan A. Lovisek

Joan Lovisek, Ph.D., is a consulting anthropologist and ethnohistorian
in British Columbia.


This is the second in a trilogy of historical studies that examine how
British Columbia came to be a “White Man’s Province.” Historian
Patricia Roy examines in detail the history of the perception of Asians
in British Columbia during the interwar period (1914–1941). Her
ultimate objective is to document perceptions that resulted in various
immigration policies toward Asians that were aimed at “preserving the
white race.” Relying on historical scholarship based primarily on
written records, Roy chronicles the changing perceptions of Chinese and
Japanese immigrants to British Columbia through a political lens clouded
by xenophobia, racism, fear of economic competition, and a pervasive
fear of being “orientalized.”

The perceptions that contributed to various policies toward Asians were
not only structured on racism, but were also directly in response to the
changing political positions of the Chinese and Japanese in the
international world. During the Anglo-Japanese Treaty (1911), when the
Japanese military defended Canada’s west coast, the Japanese were
allowed to own property. However, growing tolerance for Asians during
the Depression collapsed after increasing Japanese militarism resulted
in the Sino-Japanese war and later the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The
politics of Asian perception had effects on local policy-making as well.
Roy documents how minimum-wage laws were introduced not as sweeping
social reform, but as an anti-Asian measure. She concludes that the
political treatment of Asians in British Columbia (and Canada) was the
result of a complex interaction of racism, economics, and international

Roy refrains from placing this insightful, solid study in a broader
theoretical context such as Orientalism, an approach that would have
incorporated Asian perspectives and thus provided the missing
perspective on this important subject. The Oriental Question should
appeal to students of British Columbia and Canadian political history.
The book’s academic style and approach may prevent it from reaching a
wider audience.


Roy, Patricia E., “The Oriental Question: Consolidating a White Man's Province, 1914–41,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 20, 2024,